Today, whilst waiting for my plane in the Frontier terminal of LaGuardia on the beginning of a journey that will take me to a long overdue reunion, I witnessed many things. I saw a little kid doing the voice of Toy Story’s Woody. I saw a woman wearing a sparkly shirt that said “You Don’t Know Me” and felt no need to change that status. And, I saw someone’s grandmother being an asshole.
There are so many opportunities to see people being tacky when one travels. I do not care for people who are not terminally ill and nearing the end of a valiant fight wearing pajamas in public. Wear clothes, or at least yoga pants or something. There are people who let their kids run wild and people who eat like, nine hundred smelly tuna sandwiches once they are snugly seated next to you on a forty-five minute flight. I am annoyed by those people, but I try (try being the operative word) not to be a bitch about those people. Not everyone is a seasoned traveler and I do generally believe that everyone is doing the best they can in this life.
That is, everyone except this asshole grandma.
The gate attendant for my flight today was not a native speaker of English. He had a thick accent. He was having a little trouble getting through the pre-boarding instructions, but he was intelligible and doing just fine. A lot of people (also assholes) were tittering and making quiet jokes to themselves. Then out of nowhere, this grandmother sitting two seats from me and three feet from him, loudly laughs and declares to her granddaughter, “Hahahahaha, he can’t speak English! He can’t even read the words!” The granddaughter looked appropriately mortified and said nothing. I judged silently from my seat and said nothing. I might feel less guilty if I’d spoken up, but I don’t really think it would help.
Learning a second language is really hard. I have barely mastered the baby-talk level of Spanish, and I studied it in school for over ten years. “But this is America”, one might indignantly counter, “We speak English and everyone who wants to live here should learn it!” I don’t disagree that it behooves everyone who lives in the United States to learn English, if only for their own wellbeing. But there are entire neighborhoods and cultures where no one speaks English, right here in this country, and they get along just fine. And, moreover, this guy clearly speaks English and is working to improve it. For someone who is less familiar with a language, any language, having to read it out loud, over a loudspeaker in front of a sea of strangers, is really intense. I would cry like a baby if I had to do that in Spanish. So good for this guy.
Were the Grandmother to question his choice to have blonde tips in his black hair, I would have silently agreed and moved on with my day. But to judge someone for trying his best at a part of his job that is clearly challenging for him gets her only a shaming of epic proportion and a wish that she someday finds herself lost in Moldova.